Don’t be fooled by a smile

Dolphin entertainment is animal cruelty masquerading as innocent family fun

Visiting a dolphin show is the third most common tourism activity involving wild animals.

There are 336 dolphin entertainment venues – known as dolphinariums – in 54 countries across the world, holding 3,029 captive dolphins.

Each one of these intelligent individuals is cruelly kept captive. The average dolphin enclosure is less than 200,000 times the size of the animal’s natural habitat range (only slightly larger than the average IMAX movie screen and smaller than a basketball court).

Artificial, barren concrete, chemically treated water, these tiny tanks come nowhere close to simulating the complexity of the world’s oceans and seas.

Unfortunately, despite public awareness and campaigning, the industry is growing in some parts of the world. The number of ocean theme parks in China jumped from 39 in 2015 to 76 in early 2019.

Additionally, Mexico, USA, Spain, Russia, Japan and the Caribbean are all dolphin cruelty hotspots.

Read our report, 'Behind the smile: The multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry'.

Behind every captive dolphin’s smile is trauma

Dolphins in entertainment at Zoomarine, Portugal - World Animal Protection - Dolphins in captivity
Wild dolphins have a home range of more than 100 square miles. In captivity, they are confined in tanks 200,000 times smaller than their natural home.

Cruel tricks dolphins are trained to perform during shows include:

  • pulling their trainers through the water by their fins
  • having trainers ‘surf’ on their backs
  • propelling trainers out of the water by their snouts
  • leaving the water to spin in circles
  • wearing hats or oversized glasses

All these tricks are performed to music as loud as 110 dB, similar to the volume of a rock concert.

Both wild capture and captive breeding are cruel

A dolphin tank at an entertainment park in China - dolphins in captivity - World Animal Protection
In the wild, dolphin calves can stay with their mothers for up to six years.

The stress of being caught in the wild can be fatal for dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphins are six times more likely to die immediately after capture from the wild.

To justify captive breeding, most venues misleadingly claim to be involved in conservation.

In reality, captive breeding is just a way to produce more animals who can be exploited for tourist entertainment.

As little as 5-10% of dolphinariums, aquariums and zoos are involved in substantial conservation efforts, and the amount spent on conservation is a fraction of the income they generate – often less than 1%.

What will happen to the current generation of captive dolphins?

Three dolphins performing at an entertainment park in China - World Animal Protection - Dolphins in captivity

Sadly, most captive dolphins would not survive if released back into the wild.

We’re urging venues to transition their business models away from animal cruelty immediately and no longer breed or capture dolphins.

We’re also urging venues to keep existing animals in the best possible care, and where possible, move them to a genuine seaside sanctuary.

Moving the travel industry

A pod of spinner dolphins off the west coast of Oahu, Hawaii - Dolphins in captivity - World Animal Protection

Travel companies have the power to make this the last generation of dolphins in captivity.

They can inform tourists about the impact their choices have on dolphins and other animals, and encourage ethical trips instead. They can take away the incentive for dolphin venues to breed and capture more animals.